Daniel “Senator Skid” Mitchell Comes to IAR
It’s a well-known fact that every IAR student secretly wants to make it big in the recording industry. Of course, we don’t admit it openly; after all, we’re all about the music, right? But let’s be honest, in the back of our minds there’s always that fantasy of what it is like to live the high life, engineering in state-of-the-art studios, smashing out hit record after hit record for all of the hottest artists. It doesn’t help that almost every time we turn on the radio or television we’re bombarded with images of shiny pop stars flaunting their wealth and calling to us with promises of easy living and special perks. If you buy into everything you see on cable, then it’s easy to forget that all of the folks who manage to make successful careers for themselves only get there as a result of years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Reminding us of this reality was the theme of the night when former Bad Boy Records A&R and founder of Skids Row Entertainment, Daniel “Senator Skid” Mitchell, came to speak to students at the Institute of Audio Research. With him was a group of fellow engineers, A&R reps, producers and former IAR students. They included legendary Bad Boy producer Stephen Dent, Platinum Sound engineer Kevin Wilson, Cornell Brown, producer for Ciroc Video Production and more. They each took the opportunity to speak, telling some of their favorite stories, and giving out valuable advice to current IAR students eager to find their own way in today’s music industry
According to Skid, the first step towards having a successful career is to make the decision to go for it, and then follow through. This is a lesson that he learned first-hand when he made the decision as a teenager to try and make something of himself. He spoke about sitting at a bus stop in Florida and contemplating his life. He was already a self-taught producer, but his career didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so he decided to come up to New York to try and find better opportunities. Once he was settled, he built his own studio where he taught himself how to engineer. Eventually he got hired to engineer at Bad Boy Records, where he worked very long hours, day and night. He was so eager to work there that he made sure that he said yes to everything they asked him to do, even if he had no idea of how to do it! He spoke about how he often slept right in the studio, sometimes only going home for an hour or two to shower and change clothes before heading back to work. His ultimate goal was to make himself indispensable to the company by being competent, reliable and dedicated. In the end all of his hard work paid off and he was promoted to A&R. He points out that it was the initial decision to be proactive and totally devoted to his job that got him to the top slot.
For Stephen Dent, from the early days of his career to today, fearlessness, knowledge and expertise are the keys to his success. He spoke about how, as an IAR student, he made it his business to learn as much as he could and to be the best informed person in the room. If he was learning about Pro Tools or any other recording platform, then he wanted to master the program until he knew it inside and out. Once he started engineering professionally, he then made sure that he was always on call at the studio. Like Skid, he too knew early on that the only way to succeed was to be totally dedicated to the job and to make himself an integral part of the studio. As a boss, Dent spoke about how hard he can be on interns, expecting them to prove their dedication by performing menial tasks well before letting them anywhere near the control room. He does this not to be a tyrant, but rather to find those young students who are truly dedicated to the job, as opposed to those who are simply there for street cred, or who are only trying promote their own music through a back door approach.
Aside from the theme of hard work and educating oneself, there were other important bits of advice that all the speakers agreed on. One key tip for IAR students looking to intern in recording studios is that it is important to present yourself as being knowledgeable, but not a know-it-all! After all, if you know everything then why do you need to intern? They advise potential interns who are artists or producers to keep it to yourself. Your job as an intern is to work on whatever they tell you, not to try and shop yourself as an artist. Other important advice is to pay close attention to studio etiquette. Make yourself useful, but try and stay out of the way until you are needed and always, ALWAYS be on time!
Skid also spoke about the challenges of building his own company. He explained that he has to know about everything going on in the music industry, from all of the current hit records on the radio to who to contact for various things he may need. He also spoke to artists about the difference between working for a major label as opposed to going with a smaller indie label. He explained that it is currently an excellent time for independent artists because there is a movement around the country to create smaller, independently owned labels. He explained that as an indie artist you can find more opportunities and make more mistakes, whereas working at a major label is like being an employee; if you mess up then you get fired.
Other valuable advice we heard that night was make sure to take full advantage of digital media. Social networking is a great opportunity to meet people and get your music heard. The more of a following that you have going in to a record deal, the more value you have as an artist, which makes negotiating with record companies a lot easier. Also, A&R reps listen to everything! Since it is their job to find the next big artist, they have to listen to all music that comes there way. No A&R person wants to be the one to have missed out on the next big thing. Last but not least, all of the guest speakers agreed that the only way to make it to the big leagues is to always be motivated and inspired. No one is going to do the work for you so you have to be the biggest advocate for yourself.
Overall, it was an excellent and informative evening for both the speakers and the students. So good in fact, that nobody seemed to want to go home! We’ve had plenty of great guest lecturers come to the school, but there was clearly a strong connection between Skid, Stephen Dent and the rest of the speakers. For the current IAR students, it was an opportunity not only to gain valuable insight from people who have made successful careers as engineers and producers, but it also was a chance to see first-hand the possibilities that await them after graduation. It was an excellent evening and we’re looking forward to welcoming Skid back to IAR in the near future.